A couple of weeks ago, Business Insider’s Josh Barro offered House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) some compelling advice: “All Paul Ryan has left is his dignity, and he must not let Donald Trump steal it.”
For a variety of reasons, the Wisconsin congressman refused to listen, choosing instead to endorse Trump last week, even as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee was in the midst of several ugly controversies. Ryan may be one of the Beltway media’s favorite politicians, but his decision was costly: it rattled confidence in the Speaker’s integrity and judgment in ways he’s not accustomed to.
If the GOP leader thought he could start to restore his reputation today by focusing on his policy agenda, such as it is, this morning helped prove otherwise.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Tuesday called Donald J. Trump’s criticism of a Hispanic-American judge “the textbook definition of a racist comment” and said he “regrets” the remark. But Mr. Ryan also reiterated his support for Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, against Hillary Clinton.
Ryan seemed to anticipate reporters’ interest in Trump’s overt racism, and the Speaker didn’t hesitate to speak in categorical terms. “I disavow these comments – I regret those comments that he made,” Ryan said, adding, “Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment. I think that should be absolutely disavowed. It’s absolutely unacceptable.”
Ryan went on to say, “I do absolutely disavow those comments. I think they are wrong. I don’t think they are right-headed. And the thinking behind it is something I don’t personally relate to…. I’m not going to defend these kinds of comments because they are indefensible.”
And while all of that may seem quite encouraging, Ryan also said he intends to support Trump’s presidential campaign anyway: “[D]o I believe that Hillary Clinton is the answer? No, I do not.”
It doesn’t matter if Donald Trump peddles racism, the Speaker of the House wants voters to believe. What matters is electing a president who has an “R” after his name.
Ryan added during a radio interview soon after that he doesn’t believe Trump is a racist, but rather, someone who says racist things.
It prompted Jamison Foser to joke, “I’m not calling Ryan dumb, I’m calling this distinction dumb.”
Ryan’s use of the word “unacceptable” also jumped out at me. At the risk of sounding tautological, if the Speaker meant what he said in literal way, Ryan today condemned that which he cannot accept.
Except he can accept it. Ryan claims to have been bothered by Trump’s rhetoric, but in the next breath, Ryan also made clear he wants Trump to be the leader of the free world. That’s not an example of someone finding a candidate’s racism “unacceptable”; it’s the opposite.
As for the larger context, it’s worth revisiting The New Republic’s Brian Beutler’s recent piece on whether Ryan’s Trump endorsement will tarnish the Speaker’s reputation in ways he isn’t fully prepared for. “If you’ve built your public image on claims to ideological commitment and high-mindedness, a cyclical, structural corrective like this should shatter it,” Beutler noted.
It certainly didn’t help matters last week when Ryan said Trump’s racist outburst came “out of left field,” when the truth is Trump has been wading through these same bigoted waters for far too long.